Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
The Greek word that gets translated “full” means: exceeding some number or measure or rank or need, over and above, more than is necessary, superadded, exceeding abundantly, supremely, something further, more, much more than all, more plainly, superior, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon.
It’s not just an abundant life–it’s exceeding abundantly. It’s extraordinary. It’s superadded. I like that one–superadded.
Is that what you’re experiencing? Would you describe your life as “much more than all?” As “superior?” As “superadded?”
Or would you say your Christian life is a little more on the mundane side? More “common” than “uncommon.” You don’t really have more than is necessary, but less.
Being honest, would you say your Christian life is more frustrating than fulfilling?
I can relate. There are times I feel like I should be further along or feel frustrated I don’t seem to experience more of God.
Could it be that when the Christian life feels like it’s not working that we’re not living in the new reality Paul spoke of in his letter to the Colossians?
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
When we placed our faith in Christ, God rescued us from the dominion of darkness. He brought us into, or transferred us into His kingdom–the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God and the dominion of darkness operate under very different principles. It’s a totally different way of life.
For example, in the dominion of darkness, we tend to find our security in money. We find significance in our work or in a relationship. Our sense of worth or value comes from what we’ve achieved or what we have or even how we look. In the dominion of darkness, we make decisions based on common sense or what’s best for us or simply based on the facts before us.
In God’s kingdom, we find our security in Him. We find our value in Him. We make decisions based on faith in Him and what He’s leading us to do, despite what seems to make sense. In God’s kingdom, we give generously, knowing God has promised to supply our needs. In God’s kingdom, we forgive those who have wronged or hurt us, because we’ve been forgiven so much more.
I wonder if the Christian life is the most frustrating when we’re expecting to experience a supernatural type of life, but are living by dominion of darkness principles. We want an abundant, superadded kind of life, but we don’t walk by faith, we aren’t quick to forgive and we aren’t generous givers.
Jesus prefaced a lot of parables with the words, “the kingdom of heaven is like…” He’s talking about God’s kingdom on earth. He’s telling us how to live now. In his letter to the Romans, Paul said, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The logical, reasonable thing for us to do, based on all God has done for us–is to give our lives to Him. But that’s only the beginning. We then begin a journey with Him of becoming more like Him. We are transformed more and more into His likeness by the renewing of our minds. That happens as we invest time in His word and with others who are as well.
How about you? Are you a citizen of God’s kingdom, but still living according to the laws and principles of the dominion of darkness?
We’ve only lived here for five years, but I love my hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas, the home of the University of Arkansas.
I also love the Jersey Shore, where I grew up, about sixty miles south of New York City. I wish I could get back there more often than I do.
My dad grew up in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania. When we’d go there to visit, he always called it “going up home.” It had been many years since he’d lived there, but he still thought of it as home.
As Dorothy said, there’s no place like it.
I think Jesus would agree…just not for the same reasons. He had a busy couple of days. He spoke to a storm and made it stop. He cast demons out of two men. He healed a woman who’d been suffering for twelve years. And He raised a 12-year-old girl from the dead. Then He decides to go to his hometown. The account of what happens when He arrives is found in Mark 6.
On the Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach and the people asked, “Where did this man get these things? What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?
Mark records that “many who heard Him were amazed.” The Greek word for amazed is a strong one. It’s the same word that means “to strike out, expel by a blow, drive out or away.” The meaning in this case is “to be struck with amazement, astonished, amazed.” They were blown away by Jesus’ teaching.
Then something happens. They start to grumble. “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
They’d grown up with Jesus. He was the carpenter. They knew His family. Jesus is no big deal, they thought. Amazement turned to offense. And offense led to doubt.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
The Greek word for “amazed” here is different than the one used earlier. This word means “to wonder or marvel.” Jesus is filled with wonder. He marvels at their extraordinary lack of faith. And their lack of faith meant He could not do any miracles there.
Think about that for a minute. Jesus could not do any miracles there except heal some people. Now healing people sounds like a big deal to me, but it sure sounds like Jesus could have and would have done even more if they’d believed. But they didn’t. And they missed out.
I wonder how much more might God want to do in our lives if only we’d believe? How much might we be missing out on?
Maybe a good prayer for us would be, “Jesus, help me be amazed by You…so You won’t be amazed by me.”
One of the best feelings in the world is watching your children take their first steps. I loved sitting on the floor opposite Robyn and watching as our kids would attempt to make it across the room from one of us to the other. “Come on! You can do it!”
I think when we’re taking steps of faith–we need to remember God is right there with us cheering us on and encouraging us to keep going. That’s what I see happening in Mark 5. We pick up the story with Jesus coming ashore after crossing the Sea of Galilee.
21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.
So with a large crowd pressing in on Him, Jairus falls at the feet of Jesus and begs Him to come heal his daughter and Jesus agrees to go with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
If I can paraphrase what the disciples said to Jesus, it might sound like this: “Really, Jesus? Really? You want to know who touched You? Hello, Jesus, they’re all touching You!” But unlike the others who may have been just bumping into Him, this woman is believing that if she can just touch His clothes, she’ll be healed. And Jesus feels it happen.
Now the way the disciples respond to Him leads me to think they had little idea who they were truly dealing with. Think about it–if God asks a question, you have to assume He’s not stupid. There’s a reason He’s asking. But like the kid in this commercial, the disciples didn’t get it. Notice what Jesus does next…
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Jesus doesn’t even acknowledge what His disciples said. He just keeps looking for whoever touched Him. And when the woman confesses, He commends her faith. He didn’t have to do that. She was already healed, but Jesus intentionally affirms her faith. If I may paraphrase again, it’s as if Jesus is saying, “I love it! Way to go! Keep believing!”
35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
Now watch again what Jesus does…
36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
The Greek word for “overhearing” can be translated in a couple different ways. The footnote in the NIV Bible says it can also mean “ignoring.” It can also mean “immediately.” In other words, Jesus overhears what’s being said to Jairus, He ignores it and immediately tells him to not be afraid, but to believe.
Can you picture it? This large crowd has come to a stop while Jesus finds out who touched Him. While commending the woman’s faith, He hears what the people are telling Jairus. I picture Jesus quickly turning around, looking Jairus right in the eyes and telling him to not be afraid, but to believe. It’s as if He’s saying, “Jairus, you trusted me enough to come and ask for my help and I said I’d go with you. Nothing has changed. I’ve got this, so don’t stop believing. Come on! You can do it!”
Jesus tuned out the unbelieving static around Him. That’s what we need to do too. Be careful who you listen to. Most Christians you know are probably not walking by faith. So when you do, they may very well be the ones who are most discouraging to you.
The rest of the story…
37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Jesus again encounters unbelief when he enters the home of Jairus. They laugh at Him when He tells them she’s not really dead. I find it interesting that He “put them all out” before raising her to life. I wonder if they’d believed if He would have allowed them to stay and witness a miracle?
Let’s get practical–in what area of your life do you most need to believe God and tune out the unbelieving voices?
Make the choice to start believing Him right now and know that God is cheering you on.
I’m intentionally using the word “wants” as opposed to “needs.” God does not need anything. If He did, then He wouldn’t be complete. He doesn’t need anything at all. Not from you. Not from me. But God does want things. Let’s look at three of them. Take a moment to read Mark 5:1-20.
We see Jesus getting out of the boat after crossing the Sea of Galilee with His disciples. It was rough. They’d encountered a bad storm out on the lake. It got so bad that these experienced fishermen were fearing for their lives. Of course Jesus calmed the storm and then looked at them and said, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
So as Jesus steps out of the boat, a man possessed by a demon runs to meet him. Matthew’s gospel tells us there were actually two men, but Mark focuses his account on just one of them. You’ll see why.
Jesus tells the demon to come out of the man, which causes the man to fall to his knees in front of Jesus and scream, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!”
I find several interesting things about their initial encounter. First, when the man sees Jesus from a distance, he runs to meet Him. We don’t really know how far the man was from the lake shore, but “from a distance” sounds like at least a hundred yards or so, doesn’t it? Somehow though, this man recognizes someone “from a distance” that he’s never met before and then runs toward Him.
It sounds to me like he knew Jesus was coming and he immediately wants to find out what Jesus wants with him. It’s obvious though the man isn’t recognizing or questioning Jesus, it’s the demon inside him. So Jesus asks, “What is your name?” To which the demon replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”
It’s important to know that a Roman legion consisted of over 6,000 men. Now we don’t know if the man was possessed by 6,000 demons or just a large number, but either way there’s a lot of them. Mark’s account tells us the man was living among the tombs and had become so strong that no one could bind him any longer. He was powerful enough to break the chains and leg irons they used on him.
Night and day among the tombs and in the hills, this man would cry out and cut himself with stones. Imagine looking up on the hill everyday and seeing him roaming around, screaming and cutting himself. Based on the fact they’d tried to bind him, I think it’s safe to say this guy was terrorizing the region.
Legion proceeds to beg Jesus to not send them out of the area. Think about that for a minute. It’s 6,000 against 1, but the demons know they are outmatched. They’re begging Jesus to not torture them or send them away. They’re terrified of Him.
We don’t really know why the demons wanted to stay there. Maybe demons are assigned to certain areas and so they didn’t want to leave their post. I don’t know. For whatever the reason, Jesus gives the demons permission to go into a herd of pigs when they come out of the man. When they do, the herd immediately rushes off a cliff into the lake and drowns.
The pig herders run off to town and the nearby countryside and tell people what has happened. Now if you’ve read the passage, you know what happens next. If you haven’t read it–wouldn’t you assume the people rush out to thank Jesus for saving them from Legion?
That’s not what happens though. The people come out, they see the man who’d been possessed by the demon now dressed and in his right mind and they are afraid. Yup, they’re afraid. Not grateful. Not relieved. Just afraid.
And because they’re afraid, “…the people plead with Jesus to leave their region.” So Jesus gets into a boat…and leaves.
So what can we learn?
The first thing we see God wants takes place before Jesus and His disciples even meet Legion–God wants to be trusted. The disciples were afraid they were going to die out on the lake, but what was the truth of their circumstances? The Truth (John 14:6) was asleep on a cushion at the back of the boat. There was no reason to fear and every reason to have faith. Hebrews 11:6 begins: “And without faith it is impossible to please God…” Simply put: God likes to be believed.
The second thing God wants is for us to be free from the influence of evil. This man was actually possessed by demons. That’s not the case with most of us, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t influenced by demons. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” When we listen to wrong ideas and teachings, we are being deceived and may well abandon the faith. Be careful who you listen to and what you allow into your mind.
Finally, God wants us to want Him. Could it be that Jesus had planned to drive the demons out and then spend time in that region teaching and healing people? Wherever Jesus went, He would teach, drive out demons and heal people. Here in the region of the Gerasenes, He drives out demons…and is then asked to leave. And so He does.
Jesus wants to be wanted…and He won’t force Himself on us. Hebrews 11:6 ends with: “…He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” The Greek word for “earnestly” carries with it the idea of searching, scrutinizing, craving and begging. God rewards those who search for and crave Him.
If you’ve been feeling disconnected from God, check yourself…
Are you trusting Him? When trouble comes, do you panic? Are you taking steps of faith because you know He’s faithful? Or do you play it safe?
Are you free from evil influences? How much time do you spend consuming various forms of media versus consuming His Word?
Do you want Him? Do you crave Him? You’re probably craving something…what is it if it’s not Jesus?
Would you say you’re following Jesus or you’re kind of hoping Jesus will follow you?
In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In Jesus, we find our way. We find the truth. We find life. But if you’re like me, sometimes you’re looking elsewhere. Rather than wholeheartedly following Jesus, it’s like we’re trying to take him along with us.
I think His disciples tried that too. Mark 4:35-36 says: That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.
Jesus and His disciples are on one side of the lake and Jesus wants to cross over to the other side. But do you notice anything strange in those two verses?
I’ve always thought it was interesting Jesus is the one who has the idea to go to the other side of the lake, but it says the disciples “took him along.” Maybe it’s because some of them were experienced fishermen and Jesus was just a carpenter. Sure, they thought, Jesus might be able to build a boat, but He doesn’t know anything about sailing one. So as they all climb into the boat, they think they’re taking him along with them. Not the other way around.
I wonder how often I live like that. Do I simply go about life and expect Jesus to tag along?
Well, it doesn’t take very long for things to go wrong. Verses 37 and 38 say: A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
Isn’t it interesting the fishermen are now freaking out? And the one they were taking along is now taking a nap.
In a panic, they wake Jesus up and ask the question we’ve probably asked ourselves, “Don’t you care?” When we find ourselves in the midst of a storm, isn’t that what we want to know? “God, do you care about me?” I’ve wondered. I’ve asked.
We find our answer in the next two verses:
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Can you picture it? One moment there’s a furious storm. Dark clouds. High winds. Waves are breaking over the boat. Death seems certain.
And then in the next instant everything is calm. No wind. No waves. Just the disciples…and Jesus…floating on a calm sea. Can you see Him looking out across the water from the stern of the boat and then turning to the twelve men with Him and asking, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
What storm are you facing? Maybe it’s a financial storm. Or a health storm. Or a marriage storm. Or something else. Are you wondering if God cares? If He’s able or willing to help?
Do you think maybe we’re most afraid when we think we’re the ones taking Jesus along with us? Would we be less afraid, less panicky if we were the ones doing the following?
To follow Jesus, I have to believe Him. I have to trust that He has my best in mind. I have to be confident in His love and care and concern for me. But if I don’t really know Him, then I can’t really trust Him and what I’ll do is live my life as if He’s tagging along with me.
The religious people used to ask Jesus questions to try and test Him or trick Him. One of those times is found in Matthew 22:23:33.
Jesus gives them an answer, which He doesn’t always do, but first He tells them, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”
I wonder how many times we’re in error for the same reason. How many times are we trying to solve our problems in the wrong ways? How many times are we working on the wrong problems to begin with? All because we don’t know the truth of God’s word or His power.
What difficulties are you facing? What problems seem insurmountable? Is there an issue you can’t resolve and won’t go away?
Are you investing time in God’s word in order to know Him better? Are you searching His word to discover His purposes and ways?
It’s very easy to buy into the world’s system of doing life. It’s easy to go with the flow and believe happiness and fulfillment and security are found in a job or money or a person. When that’s our mindset, we end up building our lives on error. And that will always lead to frustration, discouragement, anxiety, worry or other negative emotions.
Jesus is the author of life. He knows how it should be lived. In John 14:6, He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In Colossians 2:2-4, Paul writes:
My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.
Do you need understanding? Or wisdom? Or knowledge? They’re found in Jesus. But like any treasure–you have to search and dig. The most valuable treasures aren’t buried near the surface.
The alternative is a life of error because we don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God.
Several days ago, I flew to Seattle, so I could make the drive back to Northwest Arkansas with my daughter, Erica. She’s going to live with us for a month or so while her husband is in Army Ranger training at Ft. Benning. Our drive took 37 hours over three days and covered over 2,300 miles. And we had a great time!
One of my goals on the trip was to visit Montana and North Dakota–two of the three remaining states I’d never been to. We hit Montana on day 1 and North Dakota on day 2. You can see on the map that we only briefly visited North Dakota. The original plan was to cross the entire state before heading south, but somewhere out in Montana, Erica asked how close we were to Mt. Rushmore.
That question changed everything. We scrapped our original plan and started heading south, but we did make it into the southwest corner of North Dakota so I could check off my 49th state! The only remaining state is Nevada.
We arrived at Mt. Rushmore late in the afternoon. Because they don’t allow dogs in the memorial area, Erica and I took turns waiting in the car with Titan. Yes, we had Erica’s German Shepherd along for the trip. As you can see, he was not a fan of the backseat.
Prior to a couple days ago, I would have said I’d like to see Mt. Rushmore some day, but honestly, it was not high on my list. I don’t feel that way now. It was awe inspiring. The pictures don’t really do it justice. To give you some context–George Washington’s eyes are 11 feet across. Each of their faces are as tall as a six-story building. If you’ve never been–I highly recommend you go.
It was a reminder that it’s good to have a plan, but it’s better to know when to flex. Had we been unwilling to change the plan and head south–we would have missed seeing Mt. Rushmore.
One of the things I couldn’t help noticing was all the broken rock below their faces. Most of the pictures I’ve seen of Mt. Rushmore are close ups so I never noticed all the rock that was blasted away to create what we see today.
That got me thinking about our lives. God is in the process of making us the people He already sees us to be. The sculptor of Mt. Rushmore could see the image of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. His task was to remove enough rock so we could see it too.
God’s doing that in our lives. He sees who we really are. He sees us as “holy and blameless in His sight.” (Ephesians 1:4) He’s slowly, patiently, lovingly removing the stuff from our lives that hide the real us.
After we left Mt. Rushmore, we still had a five hour drive to get to Sioux Falls for the night. As we were heading east on I-90, this storm was closing in on us:
That little blue circle just west of Wall was our location at the time. We made it out of that area right before the storm crossed I-90.
We out ran our storm, but you might be in the midst of one. See if this has ever happened to you…
You’re on a particular course in your life when you sense God leading you in a new direction. So you step out in faith toward this new adventure…and that’s when the storm hits. Maybe you accepted a new job, but discovered your new boss is horrible. Maybe you moved to a new city, but after arriving you learn the job you had lined up fell through. Maybe you were convinced this was the right person to marry, but six months into marriage it feels like the biggest mistake of your life.
I’ve noticed a pattern when it comes to experiencing God’s will. It doesn’t happen every time, but I’ve seen it often enough to recognize it. Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances we’d like to see changed and so we pray and seek God…and then we see Him open a door to something different, something new, something better.
Then things take a turn for the worse and we wonder what’s happening. We wonder if we heard God wrong or if we’ve made a terrible mistake. Sometimes we begin doubting God’s love and goodness. We reason that if we were in God’s will and He was a good God, then we wouldn’t be in the midst of whatever storm we’re facing. So either we made a mistake or God isn’t all that good.
That’s not true though. Deuteronomy 8:2-3 says…
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Call it a desert or call it storm–there are some things we only learn when the pressure is on, when our circumstances are making us uncomfortable. Don’t give up. Don’t give into discouragement. Press on through the storm. God is using it to humble you and teach you. He knows what He’s doing.
Well, we made it home safely on day 3. As I write this (day 4), my daughter is driving another 700 miles to Ft. Benning in Georgia, so she can see her husband for a few days. She will have covered 3,000 miles in four days!
A few final thoughts from the trip…
Shared experiences create powerful bonds. I’ll always remember and treasure the three days Erica and I shared together.
Being in a place where you can see the horizon in all directions helps put things in perspective. It reminds you how small you are and how big God is.
Lastly, I’m not really a “pet person”, but I find it doesn’t take me long to get attached to a good dog.
Who is telling you what you can or can’t accomplish?
As I was reading in the book of Acts this morning, it hit me how often the crowd didn’t have any clue what it was doing. Here’s what I mean…
When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in their local dialect, “These men are gods in human form!” (Acts 14:11) And yet a few verses later we read, “Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead.” (Acts 14:19)
These men are gods! No wait! Let’s stone Paul!
Then we have this…
Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women. But some of the Jews were jealous, so they gathered some troublemakers from the marketplace to form a mob and start a riot. They attacked the home of Jason, searching for Paul and Silas so they could drag them out to the crowd. (Acts 17:4-5)
Doesn’t take much to start a riot. Just gather a few troublemakers and form a mob.
Acts 19:23-34 is one of my favorites…
About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis.He kept many craftsmen busy. He called them together, along with others employed in similar trades, and addressed them as follows:
“Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business. But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!”
At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, who were Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the believers wouldn’t let him. Some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, also sent a message to him, begging him not to risk his life by entering the amphitheater.
Inside, the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another. Everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there. The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander forward and told him to explain the situation. He motioned for silence and tried to speak. But when the crowd realized he was a Jew, they started shouting again and kept it up for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
Did you catch the fact that most of them didn’t even know why they’d assembled? Of course that didn’t stop them from shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” for two hours.
And then in Acts 28:3-6, after Paul and 275 others with him are shipwrecked on the island of Malta…
As Paul gathered an armful of sticks and was laying them on the fire, a poisonous snake, driven out by the heat, bit him on the hand. The people of the island saw it hanging from his hand and said to each other, “A murderer, no doubt! Though he escaped the sea, justice will not permit him to live.” But Paul shook off the snake into the fire and was unharmed. The people waited for him to swell up or suddenly drop dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw that he wasn’t harmed, they changed their minds and decided he was a god.
One moment the people are convinced Paul is a murderer being judged by the gods and the next moment they’ve decided he is a god.
As it was 2,000 years ago, I suspect the crowd is wrong more often than it’s right. To be honest, the crowd isn’t very smart. The crowd doesn’t think well. The crowd listens to the wrong voices.
The crowd is motivated by fear. The crowd will tell you why something can’t be done rather than why it can be done. The crowd will discourage you from standing strong. The crowd will encourage you to follow along on the path of least resistance.
The crowd will discourage you from charting a different course, from pursuing your dream, from taking steps of faith.
Do you remember what opportunity cost is from your economics class? Opportunity cost is what you gave up when you chose one thing over another. It’s what you could have had. If you spend $3,000 on a Hawaiian vacation, then your opportunity cost may be the new deck or hot tub you wanted. When you choose one thing, you’re likely giving up another thing…and that other thing is the opportunity cost.
A number of years ago, I felt like God let me down. (To be honest, I still feel that way sometimes.) I felt like I’d trusted Him and prayed for things and He didn’t come through for me. Maybe you’ve felt that way. You’ve prayed and prayed, but nothing seems to happen. God doesn’t answer…at least how you wanted Him to.
Then you read a passage like the following and feel angry or cynical rather than excited or hopeful:
12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:12-14)
For a while now, I’ve tended to skim over those words, which is a nice way of saying I haven’t believed them. I’ve been like the person whose heart was broken by a lover and chooses to never fall in love again. If I don’t get my hopes up, if I don’t expect too much, then I can’t be disappointed again.
And that type of thinking carries a very high opportunity cost with it. In other words, what prayers might God have answered had only I asked?
As I read those verses again today, I was struck by several things…
The Greek word that gets translated “very truly” is identical to the Hebrew word, which is also identical to the English word. The word is “Amen.” In fact, Jesus uses the same word twice at the beginning of the sentence. “Amen Amen…” When used at the beginning of a sentence, it’s translated as we see it here, “Very truly.” When used at the end of a sentence, it means, “so be it” or “may it be fulfilled.” Jesus makes it clear that what He’s about to say is the truth, something we can count on.
Jesus then says “whoever.” Whoever. That means me. That means you. It’s not a select group of special people, it’s whoever believes in Jesus. They will do even greater things than He did. How could that be? Jesus says it’s because He’s going to the Father. So how does that help us? Jesus will intercede for us (Romans 8:34) and He will send the Holy Spirit to live in us (John 14:16), to help us and empower us.
Then Jesus gives us the reason He’ll give us what we ask for…so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. It’s not to make us rich. Or more comfortable. Or to give us lives free of difficulties and pain. It’s so that God is glorified. One definition of glorify is “to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged.” When our prayers are answered, God’s worth is made known.
Twice Jesus says we can ask for anything in His Name and He will do it. So what does that mean? In His Name. It’s to pray for what Jesus would pray for. It’s to pray for His will. Not ours. And that’s the hard part, isn’t it? To pray for what Jesus wants, not what we want. Sometimes (or is it most of the time?) it’s hard to know the difference. It’s easy to confuse our own desires with what we think Jesus desires.
If our prayers go unanswered and cause more frustration and disappointment than joy and hope, then it’s a good sign we’re not praying in the name of Jesus…we’re praying in our own name, for what we want. The answer isn’t to quit praying, it’s to seek God with serious effort (Hebrews 11:6) so we know Him better and have a better sense of His will and His ways. So we’ll know how to pray in His Name.
So let me ask you a question. Are you willing to believe Jesus is telling the truth when He says He will give you whatever you ask for in His Name? I fear the opportunity cost is far too high to not believe.
Think back over the past 24 hours or so. What emotions have been most prominent?
Have you felt happy or joyful? Peaceful? Content? Secure?
Or have you been angry? Anxious? Worried?
Maybe you’ve felt frustrated. Or discouraged. Or afraid.
More than likely, you’ve experienced multiple emotions…sometimes within just a few minutes. Often, our emotions fluctuate depending on our circumstances. If things are going well, we tend to feel better. When circumstances are hard or confusing, it’s easy to give into negative emotions.
I like to think of negative emotions like the warning lights on the dashboard of a car. When the “check engine” light comes on it usually means there’s something going on underneath the hood that needs to be checked out. It’s the same with emotions like fear, worry, discouragement, anger and anxiety. Those feelings are a signal that something in us needs to be checked out.
Romans 8:5-8 says…
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
The mind set on and governed by the flesh is hostile to God, is unable to submit to God’s law and is characterized by death. But the mind set on the Spirit pleases God and experiences life and peace.
The flesh is that part of us that still desires to live independently of God. It’s that part of us that seeks to get our physical needs met according to the world’s plan. The flesh is consumed with the current, material realm in which we live. The flesh doesn’t give thought to the spiritual realm or eternity.
So what emotions have you been feeling lately? Would you put them under the heading of “life and peace” or “death?”
If you’ve been primarily dealing with negative emotions, then chances are your mind has been set on the flesh. Your feelings don’t randomly occur. They result from your thoughts, from your mindset. The answer for feeling better isn’t to try and change your feelings. The answer lies in changing your thoughts. We have to choose to set our minds on what God’s Spirit desires. And the only way to do that is to invest time in God’s word. There’s no substitute for it.
Maybe the beginning of summer is a good time to make a new start, to change your mindset. Choose to set your mind on what the Spirit desires. Learn to see your circumstances the way God sees them. He promises life and peace to those who do.
Gregg Stutts - Gregg is a pastor at The Church at Arkansas in Fayetteville. He is married to Robyn, the Young Life director in Northwest Arkansas. They have four children: Rachel, Erica, Amy and Rob. Gregg has authored two books and often teaches on marriage.